In a time where people are becoming more divided, one Lowcountry artist encourages her viewers to put differences aside and instead focus on the similarities and connections people can make with one another.
Art has been in Anita Laudone Harley’s life for as long as she can remember. As a young child, she eagerly spent her Saturdays in art class, sparking her passion for creativity and artistic expression. Experimenting with a variety of mediums as she was growing up, she fell in love with the freedom and beauty of watercolor painting. She continued her journey with art by her side, yet in college, she put her creative mind almost completely to rest as she pursued her degree in Political Science. She graduated from Columbia University in New York, began her career as a lawyer, and raised a beautiful family with her husband. By all accounts, her life was successful, yet Anita often felt something was missing. Eventually, she realized what it was: the opportunity to express herself creatively. After her children were grown and on their own, she picked up the paintbrush once again, diving head-first into the world of watercolor while working to perfect her craft. With world-renowned watercolorist Charles Reid as her mentor, she studied watercolor with the same tenacity and determination that she had when she studied Law. Her style flourished over the years to what it is today, reflecting the works of famous artists like Edouard Vuillard with her use of contrasting patterns, and Pierre Bonnard with her use of bold, bright colors. Vivid visuals are a common theme in Anita’s work, but there’s more to her artwork than what meets the eye; she encourages her viewers to not just look at her paintings, but to interact with them on a more personal level.
As Anita’s style evolved over the years, the subjects of her work remained the same; a wide variety of people, offering a glimpse into their world and an opportunity to create a narrative for each person from what is seen in the painting. In her latest series, “Together…We,” she paints men and women she meets every day; she simply asks her prospects if she can paint them, and takes a quick photo with her cell phone to use as her reference. And while she paints people, she doesn’t paint portraits in the traditional sense. Anita paints her impression of the people she meets, showcasing what stands out to her when she meets them.
“When creating an image to paint, I am looking for the ordinary that captures the extraordinary,” Anita says of her creative process. “I am looking for a connection that is at once intimate and fragile, yet powerful.”
When enjoying her work, the artist asks the viewer to try to establish a connection to the subjects of her paintings, considering the fact that while we enter and exit this world alone, we are all connected to one another through our collective human experience and empathy towards our fellow man. Always fascinated with the human condition and how we interact with one another, she channels that interest into emotional expression and empathy with the people she paints, challenging the viewer to focus on what makes people the same, as opposed to focusing on differences.
While the message behind her artwork is inspiring, her artistic talent shines through with each of her paintings. Anita has gracefully mastered her style of being a contemporary watercolorist, painting with watercolor in a traditional way, yet adding a modern twist to it. A recipient of many artistic awards and achievements, Anita’s contributions to the art world have not been overlooked. Her piece “Once Upon a Time There Were Two Sisters,” from a painting series that highlights the gracefulness of growing older, won Best Painting at Piccolo Spoleto in 2017, and her work has been shown in countless galleries for the public to admire.
These days, you can find Anita surrounded by beauty both inside and out of her home on Kiawah Island. The untouched natural beauty of the landscape around the marsh-lined island perfectly complements the breathtaking art collection that lines the walls around her home; each inspiring her to keep her creative habit intact. She doesn’t need much persuasion; she is still as eager to create art as she was when she was a little girl in her Saturday classes. When listening to Anita talk about painting, one can hear the passion in her voice.
“I wake up in the morning looking forward to working,” she says. “I put my feet on the floor, make my coffee, and immediately go to the kitchen to paint. The lighting in the kitchen, no matter what time of day, is perfect for painting.”
Anita’s favorite place to paint is her makeshift studio in her home, with her paints and easel propped right on the kitchen table. A true creative genius, Anita can’t imagine herself anywhere else. And while visitors have pointed out that she has the perfect landscape around her to recreate in her paintings, Anita would rather enjoy the view in real time than paint it, choosing to focus on other subjects instead.
The future holds bigger and better things for Mrs. Harley, quite literally. She aspires to work on a larger scale through the actual size of her paintings, and continues to experiment with different techniques, patterns, colors, and trying her hand in mixed media. She continues to add to her latest series, “Together…We,” which reminds viewers that humans are all in this together, again encouraging her viewers to find their own connection to the subject. Anita continues to succeed in her goal of integrating the decorative with the emotional, drawing her viewers in with her bright colors and interesting, sometimes contrasting patterns, connecting them to those they may have not connected with otherwise. No matter what she is painting, one thing is for sure: Anita Harley’s work adds beauty to the human experience.
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By Jessy Mitcham